A wedding, a revolution

In San Francisco, one bride wore white and the other wore blue.

Published February 15, 2004 12:08AM (EST)

When Salon profiled Toby and Jean Adams last fall, they had just been married by a minister in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was a small, quiet revolution: They went home to small-town Auburn, Calif., and began the process living life openly as a married same-sex couple in a community where traditional heartland values are still taken for granted. Daring -- and remarkable -- as that was, neither bride expected that by Valentine's Day 2004 they would be legally married, with their union not only blessed by a minister but sanctioned by the courts too.

On Friday, they drove almost three hours in the early morning from Auburn to San Francisco, found a public bathroom, put on their wedding dresses for a second time, and became the 66th couple to make history that morning at the city's elegant City Hall. One day after newly elected San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom defied California law by ordering the county clerk to accept marriage license applications from gay and lesbian couples, Toby and Jean are among the first legally married same-sex couples in the nation.

For now, anyway.

Already, two local groups have asked the state courts to void the new marriages and issue an injunction against new licenses. And as Massachusetts lawmakers debate a measure that would limit same-sex couples to civil union rights, and President George W. Bush inches closer to public support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, the issue is poised to be a volatile, potentially divisive factor this election year.

But if the reactions of Toby, 39, and Jean, 30, are any indication, the joy among the newly legally wed on Friday far outweighed any doubt or apprehension. "Oh my God, it's so wonderful!" Toby exclaimed an hour after the civil ceremony. "I didn't think I was going to be this excited."

How were they going to celebrate? With their 3-year-old daughter Kalen, they'll head to the state capitol in Sacramento, where they're scheduled to speak Saturday at a rally in favor of same-sex marriage rights. Salon reached them by phone Friday as they were taking one of their witnesses back to work; they were at a cafe, ordering lunch and still in their wedding dresses.

Congratulations! What does it feel like to be legally married?

Toby: Thank you so much. Oh my God, it's so wonderful! I mean, I didn't think I was going to be this excited because we already got married back in July in our hearts, but it's really important and it just feels so -- we're really, really married! It was a total surprise to me yesterday -- we got the e-mail at 11:30 in the morning Thursday, about 20 minutes after the first couple were married. I guess we could have gotten in the car and driven there, but it took it the rest of the day to see if we could get a priest. I'm very excited. I wasn't entirely convinced we were going to get there in time and get through the line, but yeah, we're officially, legally married.

Jean: I'm really happy about it. It was a wonderful experience to see everyone down there.

So tell me about this morning.

Toby: We got up at 4 in the morning -- we left about 5 and got to City Hall about 7:45, where friends were already holding a spot for us in line. We had friends there to be our witnesses, people who were part of our wedding. The person who performed our ceremony in July was there; she was the one who signed our marriage certificate. For us it was important to have that continuity between the religious ceremony and the civil ceremony. People were very excited in line, everybody was clapping as people came out with their licenses. The line for the licenses was really long, once you had the license you could do the ceremony right there. They were letting people do the ceremony for free. They had people legally authorized to do marriages there, but we didn't have to wait in that line. The witnesses signed, the minister signed, and we were married.

It was a long line. We were couple No. 66 of the morning and that was at 9:45 a.m. There were at least that many couples behind us in line. They'll do hundreds today. And the people at City Hall were wonderful. They were really nice, they were really organized, they were coming and leading you, basically coming and saying, "OK, this is where you go next." The licenses read "first applicant," "second applicant," by the way.

There was one protester. One guy. And he was spouting off about, "If you cared about the children you wouldn't do this!" And we were laughing, because he was saying this to our friends who had been chasing our daughter around for us all morning. We're like, Believe us, we care about the children! Our daughter deserves to have parents who are married.

Jean: And there were a ton of kids there, the children of the couples who were getting married.

Now that you're legally married, what are the legal differences that you expect in your life?

Toby: First of all, we have to be realistic and say that there are already people trying to get an injunction -- I don't know if they'll succeed, but they could potentially overturn this on Tuesday. If it doesn't get turned back, one of the things that's really important to me is the opportunity with a legal marriage certificate from the state to be able to fight for our federal rights. Like next year, when we do our taxes Jean and I can file jointly, which if Jean is staying home with Kalen it makes a lot more sense to file as a married couple. To be able to go to the IRS and say, "Listen, we're married and we get the marriage rights. We shouldn't be taxed on health insurance benefits, and Jean should be able to get Social Security benefits, and these are really, really important to our family." But also just to be able to say we're really married! Just like anybody else, we're really married. We're in the process of filling out paperwork for a stepparent adoption, which in California we can do, but now we're the same as other married couples. Jean is Kalen's stepparent.

I was very surprised that San Francisco did it before Massachusetts. I have family in Massachusetts and we were seriously considering going there ... As far as we're concerned we got married in July, but we need the civil rights, and so, the sooner the better! The sooner the better.

Do you think this will be a deciding issue in the 2004 election? There are some people who think it's more pragmatic to wait on the issue of same-sex marriage rights until after the vote.

Toby: I'm not a politician, but the bottom line is that we deserve to get married. I know that I'll vote for somebody who's going to uphold those rights. So yeah, I think we should make it an issue, because it is an issue. You can't make it not be an issue. And Bush is making a fool of himself. He could have left well enough alone and he probably would have done better. I mean, he's backing a constitutional amendment that the majority of Americans don't want, and that's fine! He's digging himself a hole and I'll be happy to have him dig himself a hole.

But I don't know, somebody who gets paid millions of dollars to do polls could probably answer that better than I could.

Jean: This kind of surprise thing the mayor did was kind of radical politics, but it was gutsy. I liked it. As far as whether or not it will hurt our politics in the future, I don't know. I don't think so.

Toby: I'm so happy he did what he did for us, but Gavin Newsom is not going to be elected president. But I don't think that by the mayor of San Francisco doing what he did and Jean and I getting married today, that that's going to hurt [John] Kerry's chances.

Jean: I think it's actually the opposite. This will mobilize the young voters who never vote, who are overwhelmingly pro for the marriage rights.

Toby: This is something whose time has come!

What would it feel like to be "unmarried" now, if any of the potential injunctions go through?

Toby: I would be just as frustrated as I've been all along. I don't know if it would feel worse -- I certainly hope not! -- but I'm trying to be realistic about it. We expect there to be a battle, but my intent is to get on the Web today or tomorrow and change Jean's status on my healthcare form from domestic partner to spouse and see what happens. My intent is to move forward and say we are married. We have a marriage certificate, and I have a right put "married" on official forms.

By Laura McClure

Laura McClure is assistant news editor at Salon.

MORE FROM Laura McClure

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2004 Elections Gay Marriage George W. Bush John F. Kerry D-mass.